My Real Imaginary Love

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The Switch

I slept fitfully the next few days. I enjoyed the world, but I couldn’t. I was too tense trying to figure out what to do. Kill Chelsea? Rip Tony from his world and condemn him to die in a few years? Where would he stay, with us? He was too young looking to get any work in our world. Would we have to forge his ID? Could I even make the decision for him?

I didn’t know which family should sacrifice their happiness, mine or his? Mine wouldn’t know I was alive, but I would have a long life here.

I hadn’t spoken to Tony for days. Although he came by often, dropping off little things to make me more comfortable, including a pie. It tasted like my mom’s and I cried again.

Finally, when he came by to drop off one of my favorite books, I had no idea where he was finding this stuff, I spoke. “You can come in, you know,” I said.

Tony looked delighted and I felt bad for the horrible things I had said and blowing him off the past few days. He tried to hide his excitement and stepped inside my little place.

“What do you need?” he asked.

“Tony… your dad told me some ways to get home.”

His smile faded. “Yes, he told me too.”

“What are we going to do?” I asked, crossing my arms to prevent myself from running to his.

“I’ll go back with you. It’s the only way, Jess,” he said at my look of disbelief.

Agitated, I flopped down on the couch. “But it’s all Chelsea’s fault, she had no business doing it.”

“I know,” he said. “But I can’t kill her.”

“I know,” I said, heaving a sigh. “There has to be another way. Your father said you’d have only a few human years to live if you used your bond with Chelsea to travel and you’d never see your family again.”

“But, I could be with you,” Tony protested.

“Tony, look,” I said, finally facing him fully. “I know you say you love me and I love you too. But love is a powerful thing and we have to make sure it’s something real. I’m 14, I don’t know anything about love. I don’t know if it’s going to last or if it will change on us later. I’ve seen girls at school chasing down every love that they find and then they break up next week. How do I know that won’t be us?”

“You love me?” Tony asked, excited looking again.

“Is that all you took away from that?” I said, throwing my hands in the air.

“Jess, I know what love is though. It’s not all happy feelings and sunshine, but I want to be with you and take care of you. I don’t want to be apart from you ever again. When you’re mad at me, I don’t feel like I can do anything else. When you’re happy, that’s all I need. Love to me is taking care of you for the rest of your life. I can do it, I can make a way in your world. I know I screwed up, not telling you who and what I was, but I was just scared. I didn’t want to lose you.”

I stared up into his eyes and I could believe him, here was Tony. He had always been there for me, every single day. “Tony, I can’t watch you die,” I whispered. “I need you for more than just a few years.”

The door opened and we both jumped away from each other. “Option number three,” Faroul said, standing in the doorway, his eyes flickering with mirth at how guilty we both looked. “But we have to move quickly.”

The gate to our world was different from what I expected. It was like a pool of water, but it stood straight up like a door. I felt like I might drown if I stepped into it, Tony held my hand encouragingly and we stepped through. It was icy cold and very uncomfortable to pass through. I thought of how many times Tony must have had to go through it to see me every day. I shook from the cold but I pushed my way through, they said if I stopped I could be lost in any world.

We made it to the other side and rushed to the hospital while Faroul explained. “So I was sitting with my council, discussing other ways to send you home. And we realized, why not have you switch places with someone about to die?”

“You can do that?” I asked, a little scared. “Will I die faster?”

“No, as long as they are still living at the time of the switch. It will be fine. You will have to build up a bond quite quickly though,” Faroul said. “That is why those who are dying are typically not an option for us.” He handed me a green gem. It reminded me of the one Chelsea had, except it was dull and empty.

“How can I build up a bond quickly with someone I don’t know?” I asked.

Faroul cleared his throat. “You do… know him. It’s your grandfather, I’m sorry.”

“He’s dying?” I squeaked, they practically carried me between them like a child when I stopped suddenly.

“Yes, but we can save his life. He can live in our world with the medicine that we have,” Faroul said quickly.

“I just won’t be able to see him anymore.”

“Correct,” Faroul said, picking me up fully as they started a sprint for the hospital. “We need to be quick though, or we won’t be able to do the switch and save him.”

In the hospital room, I saw my parents crying. My mother was sobbing in my dad’s arms, I was washed over with grief and seeing them again nearly broke me. I reached out and my hand passed through them like a ghost.

“Stay focused,” Tony whispered in my ear. “They’ll see you again soon if you do this right.”

I nodded.

“You should also know,” Faroul said behind me. “Once you cross over, you won’t be able to see us anymore. Your world and ours will be separated for you. Forever.”

“Forever?” I asked, looking at Tony fearfully. “I won’t see you again?” I started to tremble.

“Jess, you need to return to your world. One day, I’ll find a way to be with you again. A safer way, so we can have a full life together, I promise,” Tony said and pulled me into one last big hug as only he could, before gently pushing me towards my grandfather.

I walked up to my grandfather and held his hand gently. I didn’t know him very well to be honest, but the few times I had seen him, he had encouraged my fantasy worlds. He was the only one who had truly believed me about Tony and often pretended to be talking to him. I had always wondered why he and Tony had been on different conversations. He had never seen or heard Tony either.

“Grandpa?” I said softly and his eyes flickered open.

“Jessica?” he said weakly, then sat up a bit. “Jessica?”

My parents looked at him, horrified. They must have thought he was dying and that’s why he could see me.

“Hi, Grandpa.”

“I thought you were lost, we couldn’t find you. Your parents looked everywhere, we were all so worried,” he said, struggling to get a good look at me. I repositioned myself and squeezed his hand.

“I’m here. I’ve been with Tony, Grandpa.”

“I thought he was real!” Grandpa exclaimed. “I told them all along there was nothing wrong with you.”

“Thank you for believing in me,” I said gratefully, hugging him tightly before pulling back, wiping my tears at Faroul’s gesture to use the glowing gem.

“Grandpa, you’re dying now. But you always believed in other worlds didn’t you? If you go to Tony’s world, you can live a lot longer and you’ll be fine, okay?”

“I’d give anything to see other worlds,” he said, sounding tired. I realized he would have his energy back over there. I held up the gem to him.

“I love you, grandfather. Thank you for always believing in me.”

“I love you, Jessica. Thank you for not being afraid to be different.”

I activated the gem like Faroul had shown me and my grandfather gasped. I forgot about how it had felt at first, now I was on the opposite end. I was becoming more solid and he was disappearing.

I dropped to the floor as Tony and Faroul disappeared from my sight, my mother screamed and chaos started in the hospital.

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